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Can a Believer Lose His or Her Salvation?
Once Saved, Always Saved?

This article, written in June 2024, is a spinoff to the Interpretive Challenges to the Book of the Hebrews page.

Please see our Truth in a Postmodern World for Introductory Remarks and additional definition of terms.

Can a Believer Lose His or Her Salvation?

As usual, we’ll offer a few basic definitions to hopefully help avoid any misunderstanding.

In our Biblical and Theological Dictionary, we define a Christian as “A true believer in Jesus Christ as his or her Lord and personal Savior, possessing the Holy Spirit and eternal life through saving faith”.  Christianity is defined as the religion founded on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.  In addition, a Believer is defined as an individual who, not merely intellectually accepts certain facts about Jesus, but surrenders to his Lordship and trusts and relies on Him for their salvation.

Next, we note that there are Three Tenses or Phases of Salvation as described by the Apostle Paul in Philippians chapter 3.  The first, called Justification, is “the legal act by which God declares us ‘not guilty’ of our sins, and imputes (credits) to us the righteousness of Christ (2Cor 5:21, Rm 5:18-19)”.  This is a free gift by the grace of God and received through faith (Eph 2:8-9).  The second, known as Sanctification, is the continuing process of salvation, in which we are made holy (more like Jesus - Rm 8:29) by the power of the Holy Spirit (1Th 5:23).  The final phase is Glorification, which occurs when our sanctification process is complete (Rm 8:30, 1Jn 3:2), that is when we get to heaven.

 Perseverance and Preservation:  Two Competing Threads?

Finally, we define look at the meanings of  “preservation” and “perseverance” as they are used in Scripture.  Regarding perseverance, God requires that true Christians not only believe the gospel, but they must also persevere in living according to the gospel, regardless of the various challenges they may face in life.  Persevering is regarded as proof the genuineness of our faith and leads us to spiritual maturity (Jn 8:31; 15:4-6; Acts 14:22; Rm 5:3–4; Col 1:21–23; Heb 3:12–14; 4:1–11; 6:11–12).  This doctrine also carries strong warnings against apostasy.  We are to work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Php 2:12).  Jesus Himself made clear when calling people to Himself, made it clear that he was calling them into a continuous relationship with Himself, and that true belief involved more than just a momentary decision.  This decision must be followed by a changed life evidenced by faithfully following Him as a true disciple to the end (Mk 8:34–38; 13:13; Lk 9:57–62; Jn 15:4–6).

Yet, Scripture equally confirms to doctrine of preservation in which Christians are able to persevere because of the power of God working within them (Php 1:6; Col 1:11; 1Pe 1:5; Jude 24).  At first glance, the doctrines of preservation, which contains assurances of salvation, and perseverance, which contains strong warnings against apostasy, appear to be in conflict but when properly understood, we see that they are actually complementary.  As true believers, we can persevere because we are being preserved by God Himself.  This confirms that, spoiler alert, a true believer cannot lose his or her salvation.  See also the Westminster Confession of Faith 1647, Chapter 17 & 18 for additional info on Perseverance of the Saints and Assurance of Grace and Salvation.

This apparent “conflict” also mirrors the debate regarding the writings of James and Paul on Faith, Grace and Works.  James is expressing the human element of perseverance while Paul is stressing the divine element of preservation.  Yet they both acknowledged the truth of the other complimentary position.

Although we’ve already given a basic answer in the affirmative, we realize that many of our readers (like ourselves) may still have questions or would like additional documentation.  Therefore, if you’d like, please read on.

Bible Verses on Perseverance: (Warning Passages)

Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  (Mt 24:12-13)

Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.  But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.  He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.  (Jn 2:23-24)

Jesus speaking:  “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  (Jn 15:5-6)

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.  By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.  Otherwise, you have believed in vain.  (1Cor 15:1-2)

Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.  Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?  (2Cor 13:5)

If you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.  This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.  (Col 1:23)

But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory...  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  (Heb 3:6,14)

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Heb 10:26-27)

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  (Heb 12:14)

If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.  It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.  (2Pe 2:20-21)

And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.  (Rev 22:19)

These are certainly serious warnings indeed.  They are primarily directed to those who made a superficial “decision” to accept Christ as their Savior, but not necessarily their Lord.  Thus the warnings are for false converts who take the “assurance” passages out of context.  This common viewpoint is often referred to as “easy believism”.  An extreme version of this viewpoint even holds that those who have made a “profession of faith” but later recants, will still be saved.  Returning to the three tenses or phases of salvation noted above, the Scriptures verify that, we are justified by faith alone, but not saved by a faith that is alone (purely intellectual understanding).

Again, the good news is that all true believers will persevere because they are preserved by God, as the following passages prove.

Bible Verses on Preservation: (Assurance Passages)

Jesus speaking:  All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away.  For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”  (Jn 6:37-40)

Jesus speaking:  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.  (Jn 10:28-29)

Jesus speaking:  While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me.  None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction [Judas] so that Scripture would be fulfilled...  Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he.  If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”  This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”  (Jn 17:12; 18:9)

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified...  Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?  It is God who justifies.  Who then is the one who condemns?  No one.  Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Rm 8:29-30; 33-39)

Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.  He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  (1Cor 1:7-8)

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory...  And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.  (Eph 1:11-14; 4:30)

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through.  May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.  (1Th 5:23-24)

That is why I am suffering as I am.  Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.  (2Tim 1:12)

 Therefore he [Jesus] is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  (Heb 7:25)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.  This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  (1Pe 1:3-5)

For everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.  Who is it that overcomes the world?  Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.  (1Jn 5:4-5)

Additional Bible Verses on Assurance that True Believers Cannot Lose our Salvation

Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  (Rm 5:1-2a)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  (Rm 8:1-2)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  (2Cor 5:17)

In him [Jesus] we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation.  When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.  (Eph 1:11-14)

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.  (Heb 10:19-23)

Final Thoughts

We could make many more arguments to “prove” our contention that true Christians cannot lose their salvation.  However, since this is such a critical subject, we certainly can’t afford to get this wrong.  Therefore, we’ve attempted to minimize our contentions and let God’s self-revelation (the Bible) speak for itself.  The fact that it has eternal consequences is why the Bible contains such warnings against apostasy.  We’ll close with a final set of verses from the Apostle Paul that provides a miniature summation of the tension of the warning and assurance passages: 

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose (Php:2:12-13).

Final Note:  For those who are not sure of their status before God, please see our How to Know for Sure that You’re Going to Heaven.

In addition, we have a planned follow-up article on some of the common questions related to the interplay of the “Assurance” and “Warning” passages.  We hope to have it finished shortly and will provide the link here when uploaded.

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